The vinyl resurgence shows no sign of slowing, so here's a great budget turntable for your newly thrifted LPs.

Superboard III: Briel Recreates Another 1970s Microcomputer

Briel Superboard III

Vince Briel seems to be on a one man quest to remake each and every cool 1970s microcomputer. His past designs include a tiny version of the Altair 8800, the Apple I, Commodore KIM-1 and even a VT-100 terminal emulator.

His latest creation is a wicked version of the Ohio Scientific OSI 600, the Superboard III. It features a low power (3.3V) WDC65C02 processor at 1 MHz and includes 32K RAM and 1K video RAM (25x25 characters with the standard OSI text and graphic character set - a switchable 32x32 mode is also available). 

Unlike the original, there's no cassette interface but there is a 9600 bps serial port for loading programs. If you'd like a slightly more modern method of loading data, there's also a USB port that can be used to power the system and transfer programs using a terminal program such as Hyperterm. 

The original Superboard II was a brilliant example of early microcomputer miniaturization because it was an all-in-one system with the keyboard, processor, memory, video and I/O circuits all on the same board. Briel's recreation achieves the same effect with custom keycaps on Cherry MX mechanical switches that emulate the look of the original with a better feel. 

One nice change is the functionality of the Break key. On the original Superboard II, its proximity to Return caused all sorts of problems because it caused a cold reset (losing everything in memory) when tapped accidentally. To avoid this sort of nastiness, the new version requires you to hold the key for 3 seconds before performing a reset. 

There's also a 40-pin expansion port, although the pinout is different than the original to prevent enthusiastic vintage fans from attempting to plug old 5V expansion cards into the low voltage 3.3V Superboard III and causing damage. 

All in all, this might be the most impressive Briel recreation yet and I can't wait to see what he's got up his sleeves for the future. I'd love to own a Commodore PET-2001 clone. Just saying.

Briel Computers Superboard III Microcomputer

Are Feature Phones the Next Big Thing?

I got mine free with a prepaid SIM card...

I did something unusual the other day and charged up an old Nokia phone that's been lying around the house for at least five years. After a few exhilarating minutes wasted playing Snake, I decided to try using it as my main phone for a while. 

And so -- on day three -- my fancy smartphone is sitting impatiently in its charging cradle, while I wander around town with my tiny little old-fashioned phone. It doesn't do maps or email, nor will it play fancy games or allow me to Tweet. But the battery should last a couple of weeks, and it turns out that I can still text at a reasonable pace using the keypad and T9 text recognition.

Perhaps this is the logical backlash as smartphones seem to be getting ever larger -- last year 4.5-inches was all the rage, this year it seems that everything has at least a 5-inch screen. While the computing experience is undoubtedly awesome, I simply don't need to tote a monster tablet phone wherever I go. 

And so far so good. I still get twitchy when I have to entertain myself somewhere for a few minutes and can't revert to scanning email or watching YouTube videos starring Romanian jugglers with flaming kittens. But I'm doing alright. My biggest fear is actually that I'll suddenly need a map, and Google Maps will be nowhere to be found. Even that panic is a tad unfounded since I have a perfectly good Garmin GPS unit for the car.

I've even found myself lusting after the stunning new aluminum-skinned Nokia 515 candy bar phone -- sadly only available on the grey market in North America. 

Now all that remains to be seen is whether my new low-tech phone habit can be sustained. So how about you? Do you ever get the urge to leave your snazzy smartphone at home in favor of something old fashioned?

The Thrilling Adventure Hour - Old Time Radio Lives On!

TAH - 800photos: Ladykiller: Elizabeth Sisson

I've been listening to "old time radio" since I was in the 5th grade. it may seem like a strange thing to have discovered as a youth in the 80s, but those old shows are just perfect for anyone who likes stories, or who likes a good laugh. I feel very fortunate to have discovered Jack Benny and Stan Freberg and Space Patrol in my formative years. If you can slow down your internal clock a little, those stories still hold up decades later.

Croach and sparksHere at Retro Thing some of our favorite discoveries are when someone finds a new take on some cherished vintage thing that not only breathes new life into the old, but takes those old ideas in entirely new directions. The Thrilling Adventure Hour is such a discovery. TAH is a monthly live show where actors stand up on stage and perform new stories in the style of old time radio. I comment on this in the interview, but I'll say it again... the writing is so superlative, that I find it hard to believe that the two authors are able to create a fresh hour of brilliance every single month.

I had the chance to spend some time with co-writer/co-creator Ben Blacker (his is the first voice you'll hear in the podcast), and the voice of Croach the Tracker; Mark Gagliardi. We chatted about Old Time Radio and the excitement of bringing back those thrilling days of performing imaginative stories before a live audience. You can stream the interview below, or download the MP3 and take our interview with you.

Make sure to visit ThrillingAdventureHour.com to download free podcasts of their many different "shows" every week. Many of the programs carry an absurd nigh soap-opera level of continuity, but don't let that scare you. You can drop in pretty much anywhere and be as amazed as I am with every episode.

Thanks to Ben and Mark for taking the time to speak with us, and we hope to bring you more podcast fun like this in the future.

links:

Visit The Thrilling Adventure Hour to download free episodes
Shows are also hosted on Nerdist
All Things Considered interview

Budget "Vintage" Microphone In Classic Retro Red

Pyle mics trio 800My studio is dotted with some classic microphones. The Shure "Elvis" mic, an old Calrad mic that looks like a cold capsule, and more. I've been lucky to have most of my treasures while thrifting or hitting garage sales, because genuinely vintage mics often come at a price.

Not only are many old mics cool to look at, but they offer a signature sound that's hard to get any other way. Then again, some don't Retro red mic office 300actually sound all that great after all these years, but a handsome mic will always find a home on someone's shelf.

Pyle is an audio gear company known for budget friendly microphones, cables, speakers, and the like. The product that caught my eye is their Retro Dynamic Vocal Microphone. Instead of yet another workaday looking microphone, the Pyle PDMICR40 takes a style cue from classic Shure microphones & other 50s mics.

The microphone comes in three colors - chrome, black, and even a burgundy! The body is plastic, which I've got to think is key in bringing this mic in around $40 - which also includes a mic cable! I'm not brimming with confidence over the XLR jack since it's also entirely plastic, and I fear that one fall would shatter the body of the mic... but at this price you've got to expect some shortcuts.

I bought The Pyle mic simply to use as prop in a video project, but the mic's performance is not bad, not bad at all. Obviously you're not going to get the classic 50s sound of a genuinely retro microphone, but if you like the look of a classic mic in a good day-to-day general purpose microphone, then the Pyle Retro mic is hard to pass up - especially at this price.

Help out Retro Thing when you pick up a Pyle Retro Styled Microphone on Amazon

Help Finish Lost Ark Tribute 30 Years In The Making

A few years ago, we introduced you to an amazing fan-made film; a shot-by-shot recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark. These boys spent every summer from '82-'88 slavishly recreating Raiders on their VHS camcorder. This is one of the most notorious and beloved fan films of all time. What they were able to pull off in their parent's basement with no budget is amazing enough to forget that our protagonists sure seem to bounce around in age as the film progresses.

They've even been fortunate enough to screen the film for Lucas & Speilberg, have a book written about them, and are even seeing themselves as the subjects of a documentary. Yet one thing still bothers our adventurers. There's still one scene they've never finished. The amazing fight sequence against the backdrop of the Flying Wing.

The boys (okay, to be fair... grown men) have turned to Kickstarter to raise the funds to shoot this final scene, and complete the adventure. They're close to their goal with only three days to go. I hate an unfinished project as much as the next guy, so maybe we can think about throwing them a few bones and finally calling "it's a wrap" on a project that was started back when we all had more hair.

Please tell me that they're not planning on recreating the sequels...

 

 

Ikea Discontinues Expedit, Puts Vinyl Fans Into A Spin

BW shelf
We've written before about the challenges of collecting vinyl - I've joked that those around us probably regard our hobby as a "lifestyle choice". There are the slings and arrows each of us face in trying to put together our ultimate music collection, but the problem that we all face is where to stow all of those damned records. They're large (okay... not along the Z axis), they're heavy, and you need to store them in a way that you can still read the spines.

Let's assume that you're beyond the ol' cinder bricks and glass blocks stage of storage solutions. You can of course build something perfect from scratch (provided that your significant other lets you touch power tools), but lots of us crave an out-of-the-box solution. Ikea's Expedit is ideal for storing a large record collection. The units are available in assorted arrangements of 12" x 12" cells - perfect for storing and browsing your favorite records.

Expedit has been much beloved by the vinyl collecting community, many going so far as to designing their listening rooms around multiple Expedit units. I have a 5 x 5 unit myself, and I can honestly say that it's  changed my life forever. For years Expedit has been the standard bearer in affordable vinyl storage, which is why Ikea's announcement that they were discontinuing the line came as such a blow. Marantz amp + shelf
Vinyl collectors were aghast. Vinyl is on its first upswing in many years, and this is the time Ikea chooses to cease production on the perfect solution so many of depend on? One of the deciding factors in my investing in Expedit furniture was that I could always get another piece to match it a few years down the road. My current Expedit is almost full, and soon I'll need to swell ranks with another unit. But I really really don't want to start hoarding furniture because now that Expedit is on the outs. What am I supposed to do?

While news of the the discontinue Expedit has traveled wide, what is less widely reported is Ikea's response. They say that while Expedit is going away, it'll be replaced by Kallax (which I keep mistyping as "klaxxon"). The new line will have the exact same vinyl-friendly compartments in the exact same sizes, and take the exact same weight. The only difference they say is that the slide profiles will be thinner and will be more rounded. Okay, that's a partial reprieve, but to my eye the thicker sides are what make Expedit look like real furniture instead of budgety slapped-together dorm room furnishings. Kallax catalog drawing2The big shocker is that Ikea's new Kallax line is also quietly being introduced with the largest unit being four by four compartments. Expedit sports a five by five choice, and believe me, those extra rows make a huge difference. When you're shelving a lot of vinyl, you need that extra height to make the most of your stroage space. I'm sure we'll all find ways to stack multiple Kallax units, but it's sad to already have the perfect solution in place right now, and we're just expected to stand by helplessly as it disappears. Expedit FB usesVinyl collectors are taking action. You can join the Facebook group "Rettet das Ikea Expedit Rega" (The Expedit extinction was first announced in German Ikea stores, hence the German Facebook page) where record enthusiasts are posting photos of how Expedit keeps their collections wrangled. Astonishingly, the page has garnered some 24,000 likes in just a month. Some hopeful fans have pointed out that the line changeover is happening on April 1st, and hope that this is merely an April Fool's gag... but that would definitely mean that Ikea is playing the long game.

It's nice for the vinyl crowd to be recognized by the furniture giant, but I stand with my Expedit brothers in voicing my unhappiness about the forced move to the new smaller Kallax. Those of us who have made the lifestyle choice to collect vinyl aren't ones to exactly welcome change.

Retro Shanghai: Pac-Man With Freakishly Long Tongue

Box-HLINAs I walked the streets of Shanghai, I didn't run into any crazy electronic delights. Unfortunate, but I did find the next best thing. A reminder of my 8 bit gaming heritage - a Pac-Man figure! Back in the 80s, I fell in love with the game. I wasn't any good at it (and I'm still not, despite having the full-size cabinet of Pac-man Plus), but I fell in love with the single-minded design of the game. A simple mouth in the pursuit of eating, and the bad guys are the same as have haunted stories for all time - ghosts! Back then, I remember buying some Pac-Man socks, Pac-Man silly putty, even Pac-Man scratcher games... but never a figure.
Pac-tongueI was bemused and thrilled at the very existence of a Pac-Man figure I could put on my shelf. I assumed that like some of the other treasures I found in Shanghai, this was simply another attempt to shanghai (ha!) someone else's intellectual property to create another incomprehensible toy. Especially when I saw Pac's massive mechanical tongue.

I've forgotten a lot of things from the 80s, but I'd remember an aardvark berserker mode in Pac-Man that let you lick up all the ghost monsters. I assumed that this was one of the weird additions you find in bootleg toys, but as it turns out there's a new cartoon on TV that features some member of the proud Pac-Man lineage (Pac-Second-Cousin-Twice-Removed) with a superextended stamplicker. Though my toy doesn't exactly match the one on the box, so it still may be some weird bootleg.

Golden pacmanI can't figure out the cartoon's storyline from the Wikipedia entry - possibly due to my advancing decrepitude. There's some basic thread of the yellow guy eating the ghost guys, but after that I'm lost. There are more Pac-Men; a bluish ice-spitting one, even a chrome Pac-Man who upchucks a magnet. You can get these figures in the US, as well as a special edition golden Pac-Man who's tongue has the original game's graphics tattooed (I assume) right on.

Guess what? Since the cartoon has been successful, they've already converted it into a video game. Hey, wait a minute...

Help out Retro Thing when you add a pink-tongued Pac-Man to your collection.

Special limited edition commemorative gold edition

Retro Shanghai: Scofflaw Pop Culture Nano Blocks

Mario-HLINWe've written about Nano Blocks before. A Lego clone of sorts, but at a fraction of the size. Nano Blocks aren't compatible with Lego, and theyr'e really not meant to be. These sets are intended less for the toy aisle, and more for collector and hobby shops. Their tiny size means you can get greater detail in a smaller space. Also the bricks are very plain - no specialized giant single bricks here... just the simple elements so you can build your blocky dreams.

Ohio Art (that's right... the Etch-A-Sketch people) have been importing Nano Blocks for a few years now, concentrating mostly on architecture sets or miniature models of animals and musical instruments. I knew that Nano Blocks are a big deal in Japan and China, but until I found these sets in Shanghai I had no idea how many more models are out there. NanoBlocks+laptopI discovered these models in the bin of a street vendor and from several other sellers in an open market. These pop culture icons in brick form are very cool... very, very cool. They are also far from licensed. The Loz Diamond Blocks I found are identical to Nano Blocks, and clearly without fear of reprisal from Hasbro, Nintendo, Apple (yes there was a Steve Jobs model), and many more intellectual property owners. Misc-nano-blocksBecause the bricks are so tiny, they are a bit tough to handle. Also the creators of the instruction leaflets could do with a few more sessions looking at how Lego does it. When I built Mario, several steps assumed that we weren't living in a physical world. I had to hold parts in mid air until 2 steps later when the connecting pieces finally came into play.

These really aren't for kids as the pieces don't snap together like Lego (I suspect you'd never get them apart again). They're models to put on a shelf rather than toys for play. I had a lot of fun putting these models together, even though it was a bit fiddly dealing with these microscopic pieces. Too bad that the American distributors can't offer these pop culture sets here in the states. Though I'm sure the links below can help you find what you're looking for... (whistling to myself...)

Help Retro Thing when you pick up pop culture Nano Blocks

Retro Shanghai: A Trio Of Bizarre Transformers

Robos-pkg-HLIN2Transformers have been back for a number of years thanks to a couple of overblown feature films, and a relaunch of the accompanying toyline. I wasn't the right age to play with Transformers the first time around, but I had a passing interest in the cartoon and the core concept. Some of those toys are amazingly & pleasingly complex, even (or maybe especially) for an adult. I have a couple around my office, mostly amusing models that convert into truly stupid non-robot forms. I've got a pinball machine, a one-armed bandit, even a deadly cash register.

Walking around Shanghai's open market, I got the idea that transforming robot toys never truly went away. Despite the Transformers reboot, there were still plenty of converting robots that were truly dopey. I saw one that converted from a panda to a bad-ass looking battle robot... with the head of panda (I know, I know... I should have bought it).
Robos-in-plasitc-HLINThen there was this trio of robots. It looked like they'd been hanging in the shop for ages. As robots, they look formidable enough (except for the one that has a surprised face for a crotch). I pulled them out of the package. The toys are made of such a fragile plastic, that an afternoon's place will reduce these robos to deadly shards... (much like the old Dapol Doctor Who figures). After you follow the microscopically printed directions to convert the robots, you're left with... well, I don't know what you're left with.

Okay the green one is some kind of robo frog who can hold accessory tadpoles in his special tadpole compartment. I'm taking on faith that these gray plastic squiggles are tadpoles, and not sperm. Admittedly this guy's transformation is pretty much a cheat since you basically fold the robot a few times, and then plug on the frog body. It's sort of like you have a battle robot that likes to curl up inside a frog-shaped cozy.Robo-frog-HLIN

Yellow stripey converts into a giant bumble bee while you stare transfixed at his second crotch-face. That might not sound especially scary, but just remember how you acted the last time you had a bumble bee after you. Now enlarge that by a thousand, and imagine that bee as a diesel burnin' robot (or mutant pollen spores... I don't really know). Pretty clear threat, I'd say, especially if you're allergic to bee stings.Robo-bumble-bee

Finally, you've got a robot that converts into... I don't know... a battle-ready roll-on deodorant? Ignoring for the second time the crotch-located face, what in the heck non-robot are we looking at here? To clarify this point to Transformers designers... Non-robot mode is a disguise, or some kind of vehicle (or an outscaled gun, but that's a different story).Robo-rollonPerhaps these robots are part of a different psychological approach against the enemy. Befuddle the bad guys, then transform into a robot and throw your tadpoles at them.

The back of the package shows that I missed models that transform into a shark (fair enough), and a grumpy public garbage can (I need a lie down). Do any of our Chinese speaking readers have any insight into these robots I brought home with me?  Since these robots are half animal, should they have been quaranteed for six months at the border? Shark-+-garbage

A Brand New Super 8 Movie Camera

This is Super 8 on steroids...

I know, it's 2014 and film is supposedly dead and buried. However, thousands of amateur and professional filmmakers still shoot Super 8 film because of its unique look. You can still buy newly manufactured film, but no new cameras have rolled off the assembly line since the early 1980s. That's a problem if you need reliable equipment for professional projects.

Danish/Norwegian company Logmar Camera plans to release a brand new professional Super 8 camera this year. It accepts standard 50 foot Super 8 film cartridges while incorporating some essential modern features such as a digital viewfinder, digital audio recording (remember, modern Super 8 film is silent), digitally controlled variable frame rate (16 to 54 fps), interchangeable lenses, wi-fi remote control and a host of other features that bridge between the film technology of the 1960s and the digital control that filmmakers expect in the 21st century. 

The initial production run will be between 25 and 50 units with a target price of € 2,500. While that puts this camera out of reach for casual hobbyists, it should prove popular with motion picture rental companies in large cities and music video producers eager to integrate Super 8 footage into their workflow. 

The film pressure plate is outside the cartridge.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of the design is that they chose not to use the problematic plastic film gate mechanism that's incorporated into every Super 8 cartridge. Instead, the film is looped outside the cartridge and passes over a metal pressure plate behind the gate. This should dramatically improve image stability and avoid the need to resort to image stabilization tools in post production. 

While there is still a lot of work to be done before the production version is released, their progress so far looks extremely promising. The next step is the unveiling of the production version at the International Filmbörse in Deidesheim, Germany on April 5-6th, 2014. 

Logmar Camera Solutions Super 8 Motion Picture Camera


Click for more ...